Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Research and Communications with Dr. Natalie Nelson

One of this summer’s highlights at UF-ABE was celebrating the successful PhD defense of graduate student Natalie Nelson. An NSF Graduate Research Fellow, a U.S. Presidential Management Fellows Program finalist, Dr. Nelson’s accolades go on and on. But we at IrriGator know her as an enthusiastic collaborator whose blog contributions were always illuminating, audience favorites. Before moving on to the next stage in her research career, Dr. Nelson agreed to share some insight about her work, interests, and future endeavors.

Dr. Natalie Nelson of NC State BAE
What was the focus of your graduate studies?
NN: At ABE my studies focused on hydrologic sciences, but then my research was really focused on specifically water quality and more specifically cyanobacteria and phytoplankton in freshwater and brackish systems – using data analytics and models to study long-term monitoring data sets that exist from a few different systems in Florida to try and infer what types of patterns we could detect between these different types of phytoplankton (such as cyanobacteria) and environmental conditions.

Did you always know you were going to pursue a STEM career?
NN: Yes. In high school I remember giving a presentation in my English class explaining that I wanted to be a marine biologist. I’m not sure exactly why I transitioned away from that but I decided that I was really interested in engineering and the applied sciences. It’s kind of interesting to see how things have evolved, where now I’m obviously not a marine biologist but I’ve incorporated some of those interests by focusing on phytoplankton in these estuarine systems but with more of an engineering perspective. I didn’t know that this is where I would end up, but I always was really interested in math and science and I definitely knew I’d be in a STEM field.

You’ve been one of our more popular guest authors on IrriGator, contributing some of the most viewed entries on the blog in 2016. Do you have any tips for graduate students on perfecting writing/ communication skills?
NN: Everything with communication, it takes practice and there are a lot of opportunities that are really easy to access - in terms of different opportunities to present your work in all sorts of different media, whether it be social media or different presentations. There are all these opportunities, but you have to take advantage of them. No one is going to force you into it.
Ultimately, the way in which I’ve been trying to develop my communication skills is just by prioritizing communication and trying to pursue these different opportunities as they arise. So take advantage of opportunities! Don’t let them pass you by. Especially because it does take time so you have to prioritize it. It’s very easy to prioritize research over everything.

You’re active on Twitter. Can you talk about how maintaining this digital presence has been useful to you?
NN: I have learned a lot about various research activities through Twitter that I would not have discovered otherwise. If you’re rather selective in who you choose to follow you can really gain a tremendous amount of information about different initiatives that are being created. Just the other day I learned about this great collaborative research institute that’s being created. It’s right up my alley, so I get to have easy and quick access to this developing group.
In terms of presenting myself and showing some of what I’ve been doing, it’s really easy and very effective. For example, when I posted about the article that I had published in January/February a friend who I know just personally and through courses saw that tweet and then went and looked at the paper and discovered that the method I use was really relevant to what he was working on. Then a bunch of conversations started from there and we’ve been collaborating a bit on a project he’s currently working on. Twitter allows for you to communicate with people quickly and easily who you might not necessarily discuss research with. It has been really practical.

Can you tell us about your new position at North Carolina State University?
NN: I’ve been hired as an assistant professor at NC State to work primarily in research and also in teaching in the area of data analytics and integrated modeling, but as applied to questions that fall within the scope of biological and agricultural engineering. This would span from bio processing to agricultural systems analysis, but then also some of what I’ve done in the past such as water quality evaluations and ecological evaluations. The scope is really broad. The idea with this position is to bring in someone who can work across disciplines within biological and agricultural engineering through the use of a common set of tools such as data analytics and some of these machine learning tools I’ve been using.
In addition, I will also be pursuing projects related to various aspects of estuarine ecology, but from an engineering perspective – looking at how different global and local modes of change might impact estuaries and what does that mean for the people that rely on estuaries.

I’ll be looking for students starting in 2018 so anyone who’s interested in a funded PhD or Masters should contact me!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Spokane Report Back: ASABE AIM 2017

Last month I attended ASABE’s Annual International Meeting in Spokane, WA. Along with hundreds of students, researchers, and experts, I had the opportunity to catch up with colleagues from around the country and see some of the latest research in ag & bio engineering topics.


ABE and the Future
One of the themes of AIM was what role engineers might play in ensuring a sustainable future for an ever-expanding population and its food, water and energy requirements. World Food Prize Foundation President, and keynote speaker, Dr. Kenneth M. Quinn addressed the concern at length. 
And later a distinguished panel on Opportunities in the Food/Water/Energy Nexus got into specifics about research, policy and collaboration. 
There were hundreds of additional presentations at AIM. Peruse the library of technical papers presented at AIM here.

Accolades for UF
UF ABE was a presence at both the student awards breakfast and the awards luncheon at AIM. Dr. Michael Dukes was formally inducted as an ASABE Fellow. In addition, Dr. Kati Migliaccio was named the G.B. Gunlogson Countryside Engineering Award recipient for 2017. 
Among the students, Biomass Conversion PhD candidate Joe Sagues took first place in the Boyd-Scott Graduate Research Competition. And in the robotics design competition the AggreGators surprised everyone with a 4th place finish among 13 teams.

Stay Tuned
Speaking of robotics, my role at AIM involved both social media and digital media work. Watch for short videos summarizing the student robotics and fountain wars design competitions in the months ahead. 


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Look at Water in South Central Florida

If you stay abreast of water media you may be familiar with Dr. Mary Lusk from handy insight on reclaimed water in Florida and topical research on septic system pollutants. You may also recognize Dr. Lusk as the UF/IFAS Water Regional Specialized Agent for the South Central District. This spring during the Urban Landscape Summit, Dr. Lusk agreed to speak with IrriGator for our on-going series featuring Water RSAs and their districts.


What drew you to the Water RSA position?
ML: I really like that it combines science with communication to the public. To me Extension is just the perfect job because you’re taking scientific information and you’re conveying that to the public. I love that combination. It’s the best of all worlds to me: science and communication.

What are the critical water issues in the South Central District?
ML: My district is a mixed bag. We definitely have a lot of urban land with the Tampa/St. Pete area, and the Sarasota, Port Charlotte and Naples areas. We also have huge amounts of ag in this district. We have strawberry and vegetable row crops in the Hillsborough County area - all the row crops in the Immokalee area. I really have to wear two hats between the urban and ag world.

If you had to focus on one issue as being most important, it’s probably nutrient storage. We have a lot of water bodies that are impaired because of excess nutrients. What I focus a lot on is ways to get the message out of things we can do to reduce our nutrient footprint, reduce that transport of nutrients from land, whether it’s urban or agricultural, to the water.

Do you consider your first year as an RSA a success?
ML: I feel like this past year has been a success. I’ve seen firsthand the issues. I know who the players are. I’ve met so many people at agencies like DEP, FDACS, the water management districts. I’ve learned who the people are and what they’re working on, what’s important to them and by default learned what’s important to Florida. Now that I have this information I feel that I’m ready to go, ready to start tackling some of those problems.

How do you feel having a digital presence on Twitter benefits you and your work?
ML: I really was looking for ways to just expand my reach, reach those folks that I don’t see face to face, perhaps I’ve never met, but folks who are out there looking for this information. Expand my reach. That to me is great. The more people we can get in touch with, all the better.


Read about Water RSAs Charles Barrett, James Fletcher and Lisa Krimsky.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Next Stop: Spokane, WA

Next week students, researchers and industry members from across the globe will gather in Spokane, WA, for ASABE’s Annual International Meeting. I will be attending as well, once again collaborating with ASABE to bring the digital audience inside the goings-on during the event’s four days. Here’s a preview of some of what will happen next week.


Gainesville Presente
There will be a sizeable UF contingent in Spokane. UF-ABE researchers will be presenting in a host of technical sessions from Monday to Wednesday. Our ABE graduate students are exhibiting work in poster sessions ranging from Natural Resources and Environmental Systems to Machinery Systems. Several will also present in technical sessions, including the imminently graduating Natalie Nelson (PhD) who will also moderate the Leveraging Big Data session. 

How heated was Robotics Design Competition at AIM 2016? Take a look!

The UF-ABE robotics team returns to AIM to put their precision ag skills to the test in the robotics competition. In addition, Dr. Michael Dukes, CLCE Director and UF/IFAS irrigation specialist will be officially inducted as a 2017 ASABE Fellow in Spokane.


#ASABEaim17
One of the more exciting aspects of AIM is the professional development opportunities afforded to students. I’ll be working to showcase as many of those as I can – namely in the design competitions like Fountain Wars, where student teams complete tasks with water and engineering (this year beach balls and eggs are afoot) and Robotics Design, where autonomous robots simulate tasks with props on a board (for 2017, the raspberry farm is where we lay our scene). I’ll also move among the poster and technical sessions to highlight exciting graduate student research.

Tune In
Get an inside look at AIM events with IrriGator and ASABE on Twitter on the #ASABEaim17 tag. And if you’re attending AIM make sure to download the event app (iOs or Android) to keep your schedule organized. See you in Spokane! 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A UF/IFAS Water School Near You

Water Schools are an expanding priority for UF/IFAS. The concept was originally conceived in Polk County in the 90s and then caught on throughout neighboring Southwest FL. Currently there are plans to develop water schools in Marion, Brevard, Citrus and Lake/Sumter Counties. On June 27th the Lake/Sumter Water School is set to debut. Event co-organizer Lloyd Singleton (of Sumter County Extension) recently communicated with IrriGator to offer further insight into the Lake/Sumter County effort.

Lloyd Singleton (left) and Steve Turnipseed inspect a FL native (image FANN)
What do you feel is the most pressing water issue in your area of FL?
LS: Rapid planned residential development in the south part of Lake County (Clermont, Minneola, Groveland) and the north part of Sumter County (The Villages) are increasing the demands for water. Lots of new lawns and landscapes with irrigation, so water quantity is of great concern. Given its namesake, Lake County has water quality concerns for the beautiful chains of lakes in the region.

How often are water schools conducted in your counties?
LS: We conducted a water school for local community leaders last summer (2016), and this is our first one open to the general public. One of the outcomes of that water school, where we used Dr. Borisova’s evaluation, was that they suggested the same information be provided to the general public. So that’s what we decided to do this summer. Some of the information may be over the heads of the general public, but I’m not a big believer in dumbing stuff down. Sometimes you need to challenge critical thinking with a little bit of higher level information. 

We are grateful to our sponsors, the Lake County Soil & Water Conservation District and the Southwest Florida Water Management District for providing the resources to share this event with the general public. If it is well received and the word spreads, I’m confident we can do more.

The water school program includes quite an array of expertise, who is the intended audience?
LS: The program is open to anyone; we are seeing interest from a wide variety of folks, including Master Gardeners, the environmentally-minded, early adopters of all sorts. We’ve assembled experts in numerous fields related to water, ready to share their expertise and answer your questions about this precious, limited natural resource.

There is a water school goodie bag to entice attendees. What kind of useful items are included?
LS: The gift bag itself is a reusable grocery bag in beautiful UF blue, labeled Water School. We will also provide a flash drive with all of the presenter’s presentations included as .pdfs, a personal water bottle, hose end spray nozzle, a fertilizer guide, bookmark, and lots of Florida-Friendly Landscaping information is included, too.

All of the above and information straight from the experts
Co-organized by Juanita Popenoe, PhD., and Lloyd Singleton, the Lake/Sumter County Water School takes place Tuesday, June 27th. Register here.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Just in Time: Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology Releases a Drought Toolkit

Recently the Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology (CLCE) released an information package including some of the best IFAS expertise on water-use in a drought context. With municipalities and water management districts in Central and Southwest Florida declaring Phase III water restrictions, this is timely insight to have on hand. Prior to the info release Center Director Dr. Michael Dukes granted IrriGator a brief interview to discuss the CLCE’s role in drought and easy ways to address water-waste in your irrigation system.

What does CLCE hope to achieve with the release of all this drought relevant information/insight?
MD: We’re really trying to promoting awareness of the drought. It has been ten years since we’ve had a drought here this widespread. There have been many pockets of dryness (South Florida for example) in between. But really to promote awareness and get people thinking about that our water resources are limited.
U.S. Drought Monitor stats for FL as of late May. (via USDM)
What role do you feel IFAS and CLCE can play in this kind of context?
MD: Our role right now is the awareness part. What can you do about it. And if you’re faced with drought what are some of your options. But I think the building of the awareness part is one of the most important parts because every day when we’re not in a drought we’re conducting research and education on best practices, use of smart irrigation technologies, efficient irrigation, Florida-Friendly Landscaping – we’re doing all those things year round. If you do implement these things you’ll be better prepared for a drought.

This season I know many of the water management districts have stepped up their messaging about drought. Are there opportunities for collaboration with these entities?
MD: Short answer is I think so. The longer answer is there is not a formal mechanism for it. We don’t have a regular meeting with all five water management districts. However, we do have informal relationships and once we get our drought information package together St. Johns River Water Management District has asked us for it. We’ll help them by providing the best science that we have.
What are some easy, fast ways to implement best practices to reduce water use in a drought context?
MD: Well, the irony of a drought is you need to water. It’s not the best time to cut your water back. If you have a maintained landscape you’re going to be watering it right now, probably quite a bit. But the practices, the research and education that we conduct all will set you up better for a drought. But it’s stuff you have to do before you get there. Putting in a smart controller right now is probably not going to save any water unless you’re ridiculously overwatering. But from the utility data that we’ve seen people tend to underwater a little bit during this time of year. So people are probably struggling to put enough water on to maintain an aesthetic value of their landscape. The need of the landscapes are very high right now.

The low hanging fruit from an irrigation standpoint, drought or not: adjust the throw on your sprinklers so you’re not watering the road, fix breaks, and check for other obvious issues like clogged heads. The more advanced stuff like smart controllers, they may not save you water right now, certainly rain sensors won’t since it’s not raining. But these things will save you water once we do get to that rainy season.

Dive into the CLCE’s Drought Toolkit here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Making Sense of Landscape Fertilizer Ordinances in Florida

Water quality is a hot topic in Florida. If you follow water media you’ll know that in the wake of 2016’s algal blooms along some of the state’s finest coastlines, putting policy in place to lessen the possibility of future recurrences was a top priority during the Legislative Session. During debates therein everything from Ag, to septic tanks to landscape fertilizer were mentioned as factors contributing to poor water quality. While IFAS research suggests landscape fertilizer does not play as significant a role as its often assigned, the reality is that much of the state has crafted ordinances on when it should/should not be applied (some vigorously contested).

What part of Florida has enacted which landscape fertilizer ordinance? Good question! Enter turfgrass specialist Dr. J. Bryan Unruh. Earlier this year Dr. Unruh tweeted a preview of a mobile website/app he is developing about landscape fertilizer ordinances throughout Florida. IrriGator caught up with Dr. Unruh during the recent Urban Landscape Summit and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about this exciting project.

How did the idea for the fertilizer ordinance app come about?
JBU: Working with the landscape industry in Florida – with now over 100 landscape ordinances, there’s a lot of confusion, especially in the larger urban areas (Orlando and Tampa) where you have multiple counties. So the idea was conceived that if you have a GPS-enabled smart phone you can hit a button and it will tell you exactly what ordinance is in place at that particular point. Nobody has really kept a very accurate compilation of all of these ordinances. My masters student, Christopher Ryan, through some of his work had created ArcGIS maps that show where all these ordinances are. So we’re merging this information into a handy app.
A screenshot preview of app interface (via Dr. Unruh)

Who is the intended audience for this product?
JBU: The primary audience would be the landscape industry. There’s an estimated 70,000 fertilizer applicators out there. Extension faculty as well might find it useful. I don’t presume to think an average homeowner would purchase this app, but they might.

Is this a stand-alone app or is it web-based?
JBU: We’re using app and mobile-website interchangeably. A mobile-website links into the database that is housed on a server. Whereas an app, your updates are tied to app stores. If they don’t push down an update as soon as we would like, then we have a problem.

There is a functional component, too. As we’ve compiled these databases, a lot of it is reactive. You’ll hear about an ordinance and then you have to go vet it out. But with 70,000 landscapers out there, this app has functionality in it where an industry person may hear about something happening in their municipality or their county, they can actually upload information into the tool that then comes back to us and then we can vet for accuracy. They won’t be able to change the database or maps, but they can provide us their ears on the ground.

Will this be a free service?
JBU: The app is a for sale product. You pay a fee for access. We have partial funding from Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology, FNGLA, and internal program funds. It may not have thousands and thousands of users, but I think that those users that do have it will find it to be very helpful.
Detailed ordinance info at your fingertips (via Dr. Unruh)
The Florida Fertilizer Ordinances web app is now available for use on mobile devices. Access it here.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Water Need and Water Use in Landscape Irrigation

By Michael Dukes

“Turf grasses need irrigation systems. Some grasses listed as Florida-Friendly need tremendous volumes of water. The homeowner also needs to fertilize and quickly address diseases and pests that will be present. Despite the homeowner's best efforts, all or part of the turf will need to be replaced every 4 to 5 years.”
- email from master gardener

A Need Benchmark
People often work under the assumption that turfgrass needs a lot of water. What is the definition of a lot? Normally, turfgrass is irrigated far more than it needs to be and this reinforces the perception that it needs a lot. There are lots of misconceptions about how much is used and how much is needed. If people knew how much is really needed, there would be a benchmark and you would have an idea of where you are relative to what is needed.

Michael Dukes and Bernard Cardenas in the research plots
An example is the comparison homes treatment (no technology, monitor-only) used in our Orange County smart irrigation study. We’re in our 6th year of data collection. Over that whole time period, the average application for those homes has been more than an inch per week – that’s over 52 inches a year, no matter how much rainfall. And we’re getting about 40+ inches of rainfall in a year. That’s 90 inches of water being applied to the landscape. But ET (evapotranspiration) of turfgrass is only maybe 30 inches in Orlando.

A properly installed weather-based irrigation controller
Timing is everything - for turfgrass in particular, with shallow root zones. In theory, if we get 40 inches of rainfall and ET is 30 inches, the amount of rainfall far exceeds the amount of water that plant needs. But it’s not timed perfectly. There are dry times and there are times when you get excess water. That’s where irrigation comes in. If you time that irrigation perfectly you’re in the mid-20 inches of water needed.

Ideally if you’re applying at the right time at the right amount, which a smart irrigation controller allows you to do automatically, you should be in that mid-20 inches of water applied. The comparison home treatments are applying over 50 inches. That’s why smart technology is a viable way of getting irrigation in the right ball park. They are not perfect, but when the problem is 2x and you have a solution that gets you to 1.3x or 1.5x you’ve made a huge dramatic improvement by doing one thing.

A Use Percentage
Image via Ewing
I often am asked how much water is used for irrigation, usually referring to single family homes. Often we see a mysteriously even number of 50% cited. The truth is that irrigation water use varies in time and space. In areas with more irrigation systems, there will necessarily be more irrigation water use. In drier years, irrigation water use will be higher. I believe the 50% number is a very convenient number to cite but here’s what we know based on data from Florida.

The reality is that in a given utility there will be a spectrum of users with most not over irrigating or perhaps irrigating at all. In Mackenzie Boyer’s recent work in Southwest FL we showed this for the Tampa Bay region, (Mining for water: Using billing data to characterize residential irrigation demand). That said, other utilities in the east and southeast part of the state have higher irrigation demand since their conservation programs typically aren’t as developed as in the SW region.


Additional research informing on water-use estimates:
Romero & Dukes (2016): A Method to Estimate Residential Irrigation from Potable Meter Data – Metered data from Orlando (1,781 homes) showed that irrigation accounted for 64% of total use.  The first paragraph also gives a good summary of several other studies that reported Florida residential irrigation use (ranging from 25-75% of total use).

Boyer et. al (2014): Irrigation Conservation of Florida-Friendly Landscaping Based on Water Billing Data – Again, the introduction summarizes key statistics from Florida studies.  For example, Haley et al. (2007) estimated 64% in central Florida, and Romero and Dukes (2014) estimated 32-63% in central Florida.

A good resource for how much to water your landscape depending on region in Florida, time of year and irrigation system can be found here.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Charles Barrett and Understanding the Importance of Water in Florida

This month marks a year for Dr. Charles Barrett as water regional specialized agent (RSA) for UF/IFAS Northeast District. This district spans Jacksonville, the Suwannee River Valley and the Nature Coast. I caught up with him during Urban Landscape Summit 2017 and he was kind enough to speak with IrriGator about his RSA experience thus far.

Dr. Charles Barrett - Regional Specialized Agent, water resources
What attracted you to the Water RSA position?
CB: I did my PhD research in agriculture (ag) irrigation and best management practices for water and nutrient management. That’s what got me interested in it. And being a Florida resident my whole life I understand the importance of water to Florida. If there’s something I can do to help out I’m excited to do that.

What are the most critical water issues in your district?
CB: We have some new basin management action plans coming into place. My role with IFAS extension is education about what this means for our residents in the district. It’s a very rural area, so I'm getting the message out to farmers and small communities so that they understand what the implication of a basin management action plan is and how they can get prepared for it.

Dr. Barrett (middle) presents at an irrigation demo
Also, out of the 31 listed Outstanding Florida Springs (OFS), we have 17 of them in my district. That’s a large majority. OFS in the new water bill got special attention so if you have an OFS in your basin management action plan you have even more stuff you have to pay attention to. There’s a lot coming down the pike and I feel there’s not a whole lot of education going on about that. This is where we step in and give the science and information. I feel we have to do a much better job of getting information out to people.

Being almost a year into this position are you satisfied with how the work is coming along?
CB: I feel like I’m starting to get the lay of the land which is the most critical part in any job. There was nobody before me to tell me what I needed to do - which is exciting but sometimes a challenge because you’re kind of making up your own road map as you go. You’ve got to do a needs assessment and figure out where the big fires are and start working on putting those fires out first. In my area, being that it’s predominantly ag, a lot of the identification of the nutrient loads in the rivers and in the springs has been identified as ag-related. That’s the big fire right now, to get those guys to understand how important best management practices are. How it’s not only important to enroll, but the rule has now changed that you have to verify your implementation of it. That means good record-keeping. It’s a lot of education on that.

Read Dr. Barrett's article on soil sensors & irrigation scheduling
If I can say anything is a success, it’s just making relationships right now – working with the water management district, working with FDACS, working with DEP and the Suwannee River Partnership has been huge up there. We meet regularly and we talk about these issues. We have a really tight-knit group. So I think the biggest success so far is that I’ve been able to get on board with those guys and to work hand-in-hand with the guys that are trying to get this information out. We’re all working together. I’d like to see more success on the side of getting things done, but that comes with time.

Before I met you I knew you from Twitter. Can you talk about why you joined Twitter and some benefits of maintaining a digital presence?
CB: I created an account on Twitter right when I first started as a water RSA. I went through the professional development academy, or new agent training, and it was brought to my attention how that media stream could be useful in your career. I figured like-minded people might find some of the stuff that I find interesting interesting to them. That’s why I got on it. I didn’t think anybody was looking at it! I see you on there with IrriGator and you’re always picking up stuff that I miss so it’s awesome. If I find something, or you guys find something, we can all share it along. I thought I’d never be on Twitter, I’m not a social media type of person. But it’s kind of cool.


Read profiles on Water RSAs James Fletcher and Dr. Lisa Krimsky.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

From Field Technician to Hydrologist

Last week Eliza Breder successfully defended her MSc thesis on irrigation patterns as influenced by smart irrigation technology. Ms. Breder first joined ABE and the Dukes research group as a field technician in 2013. We worked together on everything from frost protection irrigation, distribution uniformity sprinkler nozzle trials, and the Orange County-based smart irrigation study which would eventually move her out of the field and back into the classroom. As she prepares for the next chapter in her water-use focused career, Ms. Breder agreed to speak with IrriGator about her ABE experience.

Eliza Breder - Master of Science and future Hydrologist
What has been the focus of your research as a Masters student with the Dukes group?
EB: I’ve worked on the OCU (Orange County Utilities) project where we look at smart irrigation technology and the water savings from different technologies and optimized treatments. Specifically what I’ve looked at with that data is the hourly irrigation patterns of each treatment. This means looking at the irrigation applied over the week, in addition to the irrigation applied per event, and the number of events that occur per week on average for each treatment.  
Residential soil moisture sensor

Something else that we look at that ties into these objectives is the comparison homes. These homes have no technology and are not exempt from watering restrictions. They still irrigate once or twice a week depending on the time of the year. That data has been separated by even and odd address and time period to see whether or not they violate watering restrictions. We’ve found that about 20% violate two day restrictions and about 40% violate one day restrictions. What’s interesting about that is they’re supposed to irrigate on specific days of the week, so violation means they may be irrigating more, or just irrigating on the wrong days.

Where all this really ties together is that the smart irrigation technology overall applies less weekly irrigation on average than the comparison homes. However, some of the technologies will irrigate more frequently over the week, this is true for the weather based timers. The soil moisture sensor homes tend to irrigate at the same frequency as comparison, but not as much water is applied.  
Stand alone weather-based irrigation controller

For high irrigators (comparison homes), while some of them do abide by watering restrictions they still apply a lot of irrigation. Maybe there is a better solution for this type of homeowner.

Is water-use research something you were always interested in as an undergrad?
EB: Towards the end of undergrad I was interested in learning more about water use and water conservation. This was a really great opportunity for me, especially for work in Florida. This is an ag-based state, especially in North Florida. We also have a lot of really important water resources here.

My general interest has always been about the environment and water. I went abroad for a year in Brazil and I had a really interesting internship. It wasn’t necessarily about irrigation but it was about water supply. It was under a different context - different country, different issues. But it became important to me to learn about what’s going on with water where I’m from.  

Do you feel your experience as a graduate student has prepared you for the working world?
EB: Yes. Coming across a problem in my data, or in my research, or trying to understand what the objective is - trying to make sure it makes sense, but also answering to someone. Answering to Orange County or Dr. Dukes to make sure it’s in line with their vision and making that work in the statistics and the code I’ve written for the data - so problem solving definitely.

Field days - Eliza Breder calibrates frost protection impact spray heads
Also I can manage data. I can use R and Excel and this was a big selling point. Even if it’s new data that I’m not familiar with, the ability to learn new things and do it on your own was extremely valuable when applying for jobs.

What can you tell us about the next chapter of your water-use research career?
EB: I’ve accepted a job offer to work as a hydrologist with Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD). There are general hydrology and irrigation principles but sometimes it’s helpful to know about specific issues in a specific area – the way groundwater resources work and the way the industry deals with it. It was advantageous for me to stay in the same area given my knowledge.

Maria Zamora and Eliza Breder at strawberry plot in Citra
On a personal level, while I mainly deal with irrigation data, the SRWMD area does have a lot of agriculture. I’m looking forward to learning more about hydrology in that area and going out for field work visits to see how they actually collect the data I’ll be managing. I look at it as an overall learning experience - a place where I can bring the skills that I have to use to get things done.   

You created and maintained a digital presence on Twitter as a graduate student. Can you speak to why and if you’ll continue to develop this as a professional?
EB: It was a great move for getting my name out and learning a little bit about what other people are doing. It was fun even tweeting about some of the challenges I had overcome in my research. It got me some attention. And the people that are looking at you are people you might be interested in learning about, or brands or water management districts. It’s great for getting the word out about yourself and for expressing your professional interests, and also for learning about colleagues, or potential colleagues.

Eliza on catch can detail (image: Gainesville Sun)
I’ll still be active on it to talk about current water resource issues or great things we’re doing at the district or something interesting that happened in the field. It’s definitely a great tool.

The Dukes program consistently develops/prepares top-notch water-use research personnel. What would you attribute this to?
EB: I’ve definitely improved on my skills being here. There is an element where Dr. Dukes has this expectation that you’ll be able to figure it out for yourself, that you’re capable of putting things together on your own. He doesn’t need to hold your hand. You become independent in that way. Sometimes if you can figure one thing out it’s sort of a domino effect. The sky is the limit. For me that was R. When I first started working with R in different classes it was definitely a challenge. But I got over that peak and that was my own motivation. You have to be self-motivated.

Dukes research team 
Of course, there is also taking good classes. And Dr. Dukes making sure you have a solid literature review, and that we have solid objectives, and a solid project behind you. For me, coming in with a project already in progress – there was a huge management side of it, but there was a lot of data there and not a lot of waiting. Ultimately, he expects you to be independent and a go-getter, and in that space I was able to figure a lot out for myself, and what did and did not work, which was a really great learning experience.

Eliza Breder and Sara Wynn help us learn irrigation basics

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Flip My Florida Yard: Florida-Friendly Landscaping Gets the Star Treatment

Thanks to alert undergraduate Sienna Turner, late last year I had the opportunity to participate in a shoot for the new reality series Flip My Florida Yard here in Alachua County. The concept: a family dissatisfied with their drab or derelict landscape has an army of landscaping professionals redesign their yard in the course of a work day to reflect the 9 Florida-Friendly principles. Ms. Turner saw a call for volunteers that Sustainable UF published online and off we went to pitch in and see the action.
Start at the Beginning
How exactly does one flip an entire yard in just one day? For starters, you have to rise and shine at the crack of dawn in 40 degree December weather! The Alachua-based Frontrunner’s Chapter of FNGLA was instrumental in gathering contractors, equipment and supplies for the day’s work. What I was told would normally take a crew of 4 workers two days to accomplish, would be tackled by a crew of 20 in 8 hours. 
The yard flipping crew gathers at sunrise in Newberry
Chapter president Stefan Liopiros (of Lawn Enforcement Agency, Inc.) described the day’s mission: “One of the reasons their yard doesn’t look so great is because they don’t like taking care of it so we want to go in and do something and make a change to it so it’s going to look great without a lot of maintenance. One of the objectives with our design today is a very low-maintenance, highly attractive water-saving landscape.”

Look familiar? This landscape is ready to flip 
The Look
Upon initial inspection the existing yard looked simple enough – minimalist, turf-centric, weedy, and with little shade and few ornamentals. You might call this a traditional Florida landscape design. I’ve certainly seen it countless times during irrigation system assessment work around the state. 

A look at the Florida-Friendly design plans 
Stacie Greco, Water Conservation Coordinator with Alachua County Environmental Protection, noted that one of the benefits of the Flip My Florida Yard program is showcasing different aesthetics. “We’re trying to switch, to shift that landscaping paradigm where people start to include more landscapes in what they think is beautiful and acceptable,” Ms. Greco said. “Not just a bright green, plush carpet-like lawn, but something that might have some more diversity and use a little bit less water and chemicals.”

Water on the Brain
Resource efficiency is the bread and butter of an FFL design. And I’ll be honest what I was interested in most was the site’s irrigation - what was already there pre-flip and what would it look like in the end. According to Mr. Lioprios this was one of the challenges of reworking the yard. “The question is: do you rip out the whole existing system and start over, or do you take the existing system and try to hybridize it and turn it into something that’s a low-volume system?”
FMFY host Chad Crawford (right) talks soil health with Stefan Lioprios
Mr. Lioprios continued, “based on the time frame we chose to use as much of the original pipe work as possible and convert it over into a low-volume drip system.” From what I saw the new ornamental–laden front yard was converted to drip and the remaining turf areas on the side of the house and in the backyard stayed the same.

8 Hours Later
As promised, the Frontrunners FNGLA Chapter flipped the yard in one work day. New features included boulders, palm trees, generous use of mulch, a sprouting container-vegetable garden, and an assortment of native and low-maintenance plants. 

Standing ovation for an 8-hour Florida-Friendly yard flip! (image via Frontrunners)
The takeaways for me: professional reality show productions might be fun to watch but are tedious to witness, and a well-designed landscape definitely makes for a more inviting living area. Title sponsor FNGLA funded 4 productions of Flip My Florida Yard in homes across the state. Preview a yard flip in Bradenton here and check your local listings for information on when Flip My Florida Yard broadcasts in your area.

Not bad for a day's work. Find out when Flip My Florida Yard airs in your area!